This is one of the most frustrating cases I’ve ever researched, mostly because it could’ve been prevented. My question for you: if a parent is a murder suspect, especially when they’re suspected of killing the child’s other parent, should they still be permitted access to the children?
Susan and Josh Powell resided in West Valley City, Utah, they’d been married since April of 2001. Two boys were the products of this tumultuous marriage, Braden and Charley – they were 2 & 4 when their mother disappeared. Josh was very controlling, and even abusive, just as his own father, Steve, had always been towards him. It’s said that in his childhood Josh entertained himself by killing small animals such as gerbils with a butcher knife.
Susan Powell went missing from West Valley City, Utah, on December 6th of 2009. On that particular evening Josh had made a meal of pancakes for the family and a neighbor – cooking or doing any sort of housework was very unusual for the man. He made the pancakes individually, one by one, and served the plates individually the moment after the pancakes were done. Very soon after eating what Josh had cooked, Susan began to feel ill; at this time she went to lay down, and at approximately five pm the neighbor left. This would be the very last time anyone other than Josh would ever say that they’d seen Susan.
Later that night Josh decided to take the boys camping. This alone doesn’t make any sense; they didn’t leave to go camping until around midnight, they’d had no plans for camping, and there had actually been a blizzard that night. Yeah, it’s safe to say that it had been way too cold for camping. The boys later said that mommy had been with them that night – Susan had been in the trunk when they went camping.
After Josh returned from the trip, he said that his wife was missing. But everything that a woman would leave with, such as her purse, keys, cell phone, vehicle, had all been left behind. It was noted that there were 2 large fans blowing on wet spots in the carpet – it was blood, and one blood sample would be connected to Susan. Another was unknown, not belonging to anyone in the home. Susan’s husband, Josh, was quickly named a person of interest.
Josh and his father, Steve, promptly began a smear campaign on the missing woman; they claimed that Susan had been a seductress who flirted with with her father in law constantly. The men stated that Susan had run away with some other man as she was a “very sexual creature”. Every one who knew Susan claimed that was absolute bullshit – in truth Steve had been obsessed with Susan! Her father in law was constantly hitting on her, and she was very fearful of him. Police conducted a search of the Powell home, and a video which Susan had made was discovered. On tape she admitted that she was afraid for her life, she stated, “I want it documented that there is extreme turmoil in our marriage” and “If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one.”.
Police also found voyeurism pornography, thousands of photos including those of children at playgrounds which focused on the genital areas. Several were of neighborhood children; Steve had taken these snapshots through the window of the home whilst the kids had played outside. Among these, police found that Steve had unquestionably been obsessed with his daughter in law. He’d written songs for her, and there were voyeuristic pictures galore. Many pictures had been taken while Susan had been using the restroom, taken from the crack under the door. Police also found a life insurance policy on Susan for 1.5 million.
At this point, the two boys were taken from the father’s custody and given to Susan’s family while Josh was forced to take a psycho sexual evaluation; the two families were now at each other’s throats. A custody battle ensued, and Josh truly expected to get his children back. On September 23rd of 2011, a judge decided that the children should permanently stay with Susan’s family in Washington; Josh would continue to have supervised visitations with his children.
On February 5th of 2012, Josh was scheduled to have his first supervised visit with the boys since the custody hearing. As usual, a social worker picked up the boys (now 5 & 7) and drove them to the home for a visit with Josh. The boys excitedly jumped out the car and ran to the door quickly, while the social worker was a few steps behind. Josh opened the door, rushed the boys inside, looked the social worker dead in the eyes, and he slammed the door in her face.
The frantic social worker, Elizabeth Griffen-Hall, pounded on the front door, she begged Josh to open up; when she realized this wasn’t going anywhere, she phoned 911. This is thee most frustrating phone call you will ever hear in your life (I’ll add the audio just below). She tried to explain the dire situation to the 911 operator who just didn’t understanding. This tape is so frustrating. The worker knew darn good and well that those children’s lives were in danger, but the operator refused to take the situation seriously. Even when she tells the operator that she’s afraid because she smells gasoline, the operator tells her the police will get to the home after they’ve dealt with the real life and death calls. Yeah. It is so frustrating to listen to!
Then there was an explosion; Bam – the home was on fire. Josh had blown the home up with himself and the boys locked inside, with a social worker beating on the door while on the phone with that asshole 911 operator who had refused to promptly send the police. Autopsy concluded that those innocent boys had taken several blows to the neck with a hatchet before they’d died in the fire. Josh had murdered them all.
When Steven Powell, Josh’s father, was informed of what had happened, he was upset with investigators for telling him. He was found guilty of second degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The 911 operator was not even so much a as reprimanded for his behavior. As for Susan Powell, she is still missing.
What do you think happened? Do you think Josh murdered Susan? Do you think it was Steve? Should Josh have had access to the kids? And what about that operator?